Catholic sex abuse cases in the United States

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Catholic sex abuse cases in the United States are a series of lawsuits, criminal prosecutions, and scandals over sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy.

The issue of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests was first publicized in 1985 when a Louisiana priest pled guilty to 11 counts of molestation of boys.[1] It was again brought to national attention when a number of books on the topic were published in the 1990s.[2] In early 2002 the Boston Globe covered the criminal prosecutions of five Roman Catholic priests in an article that won an uncontested Pulitzer Prize. The issue of child rape and sexual assault of Roman Catholic children became a national scandal.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] The coverage of these cases encouraged others to come forward with allegations of abuse, resulting in more lawsuits and criminal cases.[12]

BishopAccountability.org, an "online archive established by lay Catholics," reports that over 3,000 "civil lawsuits have been filed against the church" in the United States,[13] some of these cases have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements with many claimants. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas paid $30.9 million in 1998 to twelve victims of one priest ($44.7 million in present-day terms).[14][15] In July 2003 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville paid $25.7 million to "settle child sexual-abuse allegations made in 240 lawsuits naming 34 priests and other church workers."[14] In 2003, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston settled a large case for $85 million with 552 alleged victims.[16]

In 2004, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange settled nearly 90 cases for $100 million.[17] In April 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon agreed to a $75 million settlement with 177 claimants and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle agreed to a $48 million settlement with more than 160 victims.[18] In July 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $660 million agreement with more than 500 alleged victims, in December 2006, the archdiocese had a settlement of 45 lawsuits for $60 million.[19][20] In September 2007, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego reached a $198.1 million "agreement with 144 childhood sexual abuse victims."[21]

In July 2008 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver agreed "to pay $5.5 million to settle 18 claims of childhood sexual abuse."[22] The Associated Press estimated the total from settlements of sex abuse cases from 1950–2007 to be more than $2 billion.[20] BishopAccountability reports that figure reached more than $3 billion in 2012.[13][23] Addressing "a flood of abuse claims" five dioceses (Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon.; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego) got bankruptcy protection.[20] Eight Catholic dioceses have declared bankruptcy due to sex abuse cases from 2004–2011.[24]

As it became clear that there was truth to many of the allegations and that there was a pattern of cover-ups in a number of large dioceses across the United States, the issue became a nationwide scandal, creating a crisis for the Catholic Church in the United States. Allegations in the United States also encouraged victims in other nations to come forward, rapidly creating a global crisis for the Church. Over many decades, priests and lay members of religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church had sexually abused children on a scale such that the accusations reached into the thousands.[25] A major aggravating factor was the actions of Catholic bishops to keep these crimes secret and to reassign the accused to other parishes in positions where they had continued unsupervised contact with youth.

Many of the accused priests were forced to resign or were defrocked. In addition, several bishops who had participated in the cover-up were also forced to resign or retire.[26] The dioceses in which the crimes were committed found it necessary to make financial settlements with the victims totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars.[12] The revelations nationwide led to a "zero tolerance" policy by the National Council of Catholic Bishops. Reported incidences since that time have dropped substantially and, when they occurred, been reported by the church itself.

Scope and nature of the problem[edit]

Allegations of sexual abuse by priests were widespread, occurring in cities across the country, including Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Orange County, Palm Beach, Philadelphia and Portland, Eureka, California[27][28][29][30][31] as well as in dioceses across Europe.

In 2008, the Church asserted that the scandal was a very serious problem, but at the same time, estimated that it was "probably caused by 'no more than 1 per cent' (or about 5,000) of the around 410,000 Roman Catholic priests worldwide.[32] The overwhelming majority (approximately 80%) of reported cases of sexual abuse of minors occurred in the United States.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct a comprehensive study based on surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. The product of the study, titled the John Jay Report indicated that some 11,000 allegations had been made against 4,392 priests in the USA. This number constituted approximately 4% of the priests who had served during the period covered by the survey (1950–2002).[33]

Actions of the Catholic hierarchy[edit]

Historically, the Church has typically addressed sexual abuse as an internal matter. Abusive priests were sanctioned under canon law and sometimes received treatment from specialized Catholic service agencies, with relatively few of the offending priests reported to civil authorities. For example 6,000 pages of documents released in a Milwaukee court case showed a pattern of on-going abuse by a large number of priests systematically switched to different assignments while church administrators failed to inform secular law enforcement agencies. [34]

Abusers moved to different locations[edit]

The Church was widely criticized when it was discovered that some bishops knew about the crimes committed, but reassigned the accused instead of seeking to have them permanently removed from the priesthood.[12][35] In defense of this practice, some have pointed out that public school administrators acted in a similar manner when dealing with teachers accused of sexual misconduct,[36] as did the Boy Scouts of America.[37]

Some bishops have been heavily criticized for moving offending priests from parish to parish, where they still had personal contact with children, rather than seeking to have them permanently removed from the priesthood. Instead of reporting the incidents to police, many dioceses directed the offending priests to seek psychological treatment and assessment.

In response to these allegations, defenders of the Church's actions have suggested that in re-assigning priests after treatment, bishops were acting on the best medical advice then available, a policy also followed by the US public school system when dealing with accused teachers. Some bishops and psychiatrists have asserted that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling.[35][38] Many of the abusive priests had received counseling before being reassigned.[39][40] Critics have questioned whether bishops are necessarily able to form accurate judgments on a priest's recovery.[citation needed] The priests were allowed to resume their previous duties with children only when the bishop was advised by the treating psychologists or psychiatrists that it was safe for them to resume their duties.[citation needed]

Failure to report alleged criminal acts to police[edit]

From a legal perspective, the most serious criticism aside from the incidents of child sexual abuse themselves was by the bishops, who failed to report accusations to the police. In response to the failure to report abuse to the police, lawmakers have changed the law to make reporting of abuse to police compulsory. An example of this can be found in Massachusetts, USA.[41]

Handling of evidence[edit]

William McMurry, a Louisville, Kentucky lawyer, filed suit against the Vatican[42] in June 2004 on behalf of three men allegedly abusing as far back as 1928, accusing Church leaders of organizing a cover-up of cases of sexual abuse of children. In November 2008, the United States Court of Appeals in Cincinnati denied the Vatican's claim of sovereign immunity and allowed the case to proceed. The Vatican initially stated that it did not plan to appeal the ruling.

Awareness of the problem[edit]

Some date the current sexual abuse scandal to an article published in the National Catholic Reporter in 1985.[43] After that, the scandal remained at the fringes of public attention but did not become a focus of national attention until the mid-1990s when a number of books were published on the topic.[2] The topic became the focus of intense scrutiny and debate after the Boston Globe published a series of articles covering cases of sexual abuse.

In 2002, criminal charges were brought against five Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area of the United States, (John Geoghan, John Hanlon, Paul Shanley, Robert V. Gale and Jesuit priest James Talbot) which ultimately resulted in the conviction and sentencing of each to prison.[44] The ongoing coverage of these cases by the Boston Globe thrust the issue of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests into the national limelight.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][45] The coverage of these cases encouraged other victims to come forward with their allegations of abuse resulting in more lawsuits and criminal cases.[12]

Prosecution by civil authorities[edit]

In June 2012, Msgr. William J. Lynn, of the archdiocese of Philadelphia, became the first senior official convicted in the United States for covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests he oversaw. Lynn was convicted of child endangerment for, as the official in charge of handling abuse complaints, reassigning known abusers to new parishes instead of keeping them away from children.[46] He was sentenced to three to six years in prison.[47]

The largest concentrations of sex abuse cases have been in the United States,[citation needed] some of these cases have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements with many claimants. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas paid $30.9 million in 1998 to twelve victims of one priest.[14] In July 2003 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville paid $25.7 million to "settle child sexual-abuse allegations made in 240 lawsuits naming 34 priests and other church workers."[14] In 2003 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston also settled a large case for $85 million with 552 alleged victims.[16]

In 2004, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange settled nearly 90 cases for $100 million.[17] In April 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon agreed to a $75 million settlement with 177 claimants and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle agreed to a $48 million settlement with more than 160 victims.[18] In July 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $660 million agreement with more than 500 alleged victims, in December 2006, the archdiocese had a settlement of 45 lawsuits for $60 million.[19][20] In September 2007 the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego reached a $198.1 million "agreement with 144 childhood sexual abuse victims."[21]

In July 2008 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver agreed "to pay $5.5 million to settle 18 claims of childhood sexual abuse."[22] The Associated Press estimated the total from settlements of sex abuse cases from 1950–2007 to be more than $2 billion.[20] According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that figure reached more than $2.6 billion in 2008.[23] Addressing "a flood of abuse claims" five dioceses (Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon.; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego) got bankruptcy protection.[20] Eight Catholic dioceses have declared bankruptcy due to sex abuse cases from 2004–2011.[48]

Response of the Church[edit]

Although many cases could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations in civil law, the Church's canon law allows for prosecution of many of those cases.[citation needed]

The Catholic Church responded to the scandal at three levels: the diocesan level, the episcopal conference level and the Vatican. Responses to the scandal proceeded at all three levels in parallel with the higher levels becoming progressively more involved as the gravity of the problem became more apparent.

Before the Boston Globe coverage of the sexual abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese, handling of sexual abuse allegations was largely left up to the discretion of individual bishops. After the number of allegations exploded following the Globe's series of articles, U.S. bishops felt compelled to formulate a coordinated response at the episcopal conference level.

Although the Vatican did not respond immediately to the series of articles published by the Boston Globe in 2002, it has been reported that Vatican officials were, in fact, monitoring the situation in the U.S. closely.[49] Over time, it became more apparent that the problem warranted greater Vatican involvement.

Diocesan responses to the problem[edit]

The response to allegations of sexual abuse in a diocese was largely left to the bishop or archbishop. Many of the accused priests were forced to resign or were defrocked. In addition, several bishops who had participated in the cover-up were also forced to resign or retire.[26]

The dioceses in which abuse was committed or in which abuse allegations were settled out of court found it necessary to make financial settlements with the victims totaling over $1.5 billion as of March 2006.[50] The number and size of these settlements made it necessary for the dioceses to reduce their ordinary operating expenses by closing churches and schools. In many instances, dioceses were forced to declare bankruptcy as a result of the settlements.

Initial response of the Vatican[edit]

On April 30, 2001, John Paul II issued a letter stating that "a sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue by a cleric with a minor under 18 years of age is to be considered a grave sin, or 'delictum gravius.'"[51]

John F. Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, has commented that many American Catholics saw the Vatican’s initial silence on the Boston Globe stories as showing a lack of concern or awareness about the issue. However, Allen said that he doesn't know anyone in the Roman Curia who was not horrified "by the revelations that came out of the Globe and elsewhere" or that "would defend Cardinal Law’s handling of the cases in Boston" or "would defend the rather shocking lack of oversight that revealed itself [although] they might have different analyses of what should have happened to him".[49] Allen described the Vatican's perspective as being somewhat skeptical of the media handling of the scandal. In addition, he asserted that the Vatican viewed American cultural attitudes toward sexuality as being somewhat hysterical as well as exhibiting a lack of understanding of the Catholic Church.

No one [in the Vatican] thinks the sexual abuse of kids is unique to the States, but they do think that the reporting on it is uniquely American, fueled by anti-Catholicism and shyster lawyers hustling to tap the deep pockets of the church. And that thinking is tied to the larger perception about American culture, which is that there is a hysteria when it comes to anything sexual, and an incomprehension of the Catholic Church. What that means is that Vatican officials are slower to make the kinds of public statements that most American Catholics want, and when they do make them they are tentative and halfhearted. It's not that they don't feel bad for the victims, but they think the clamor for them to apologize is fed by other factors that they don't want to capitulate to.[49]

In April 2002, Pope John Paul II called to Rome the U.S. cardinals, plus the president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The pope asserted that "there is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young." The meeting's participants drew up a final statement, which called for a set of national standards for dealing with sexual abuse of minors by priests and new procedures for dismissing from the clerical state those found guilty of that crime.

Relations between the Vatican and American Catholics[edit]

According to John Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, cultural differences between the Vatican and American Catholics complicated the process of formulating a comprehensive response to the sexual abuse scandal. Allen asserted that the sexual abuse crisis illustrated that "there is a lot about the American culture and the American Church that puzzles people in the Vatican, and there is much about the Vatican that puzzles Americans and English speakers generally."[49]

Response of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops[edit]

As the breadth and depth of the scandals became apparent in dioceses across the United States, it became apparent to the American bishops that a joint response was warranted at the episcopal conference level. John F. Allen Jr. characterized the reaction of the USCCB as calling for “swift, sure and final punishment for priests who are guilty of this kind of misconduct.” In contrast to this, Allen characterized the Vatican's primary concern as wanting to make sure “that everyone’s rights are respected, including the rights of accused clergy" and wanting to affirm that it is not acceptable to "remedy the injustice of sexual abuse with the injustice of railroading priests who may or may not be guilty.”[49]

According to Catholic News Service by 2008, the U.S. church had trained 5.8 million children to recognize and report abuse. It had run criminal checks on 1.53 million volunteers and employees, 162,700 educators, 51,000 clerics and 4,955 candidates for ordination. It had trained 1.8 million clergy, employees and volunteers in creating a safe environment for children.[52]

Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People[edit]

In June 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) unanimously promulgated a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter committed the Catholic Church in the U.S. to the goal of providing a "safe environment" for all children and youth participating in activities sponsored by the Church. To accomplish this, the U.S. bishops pledged to establish uniform procedures for handling sex-abuse allegations against lay teachers in Catholic schools, parish staff members, coaches and other people who represent the Church to young people.[53][54]

The thrust of the charter was the adoption of a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual abuse.[55][56] The USCCB instituted reforms to prevent future abuse by requiring background checks for Church employees.[53] They now require dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty.[53][57]

An audit of the Charter was completed in 2010.[58]

Essential Norms[edit]

Main article: Essential Norms

In June 2002, to ensure that each diocese/eparchy in the United States had "procedures in place to respond promptly to allegations of sexual abuse of minors", the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also decreed "Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priest or Deacons". These Essential Norms were revised by the USCCB in November 2002 to incorporate changes proposed by a commission of four bishops from the Holy See and four bishops from the United States which met in Rome in October 2002.[59][60]

Having received the recognition of the Apostolic See on December 8, 2002, and having been legitimately promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on December 12, 2002, these norms constitute particular law for all the dioceses/eparchies of the United States effective March 1, 2003. These norms are complementary to the universal law of the Church, which has traditionally considered the abuse of minors a grave delict and punishes the offender with penalties, not excluding laicization if the case so warrants.[61][62][63][64][65]

Response of the laity[edit]

A study conducted by CARA in 2007 found that, although many Catholics are unaware of the specific steps that the church as taken, when informed of them, large majorities approve these actions. 78 percent strongly approved of reporting allegations of sexual abuse by clergy to civil authorities and cooperating in civil investigations. 76 percent strongly approved of removing from ministry people credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.[citation needed]

John Jay study[edit]

In June 2002 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Dallas and approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Charter created a National Review Board, which was assigned responsibility to commission a descriptive study, with the full cooperation of the dioceses/eparchies, of the nature and scope of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

The National Review Board engaged the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York to conduct a study analyzing allegations of sexual abuse in Catholic dioceses in United States. The time period covered by the John Jay study began in 1950 and ended in 2002. The product of the study was a report to the National Review Board titled "The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States" and commonly referred to as the "John Jay Report".

Prevalence of the problem[edit]

The John Jay report indicated that some 11,000 allegations had been made against 4,392 priests in the USA. This number constituted approximately 4% of the 110,000 priests who had served during the period covered by the survey (1950–2002).[33] The report found that, over the 52-year period covered by the study, "the problem was indeed widespread and affected more than 95 percent of the dioceses and approximately 60 percent of religious communities."[66]

In 2008, the Church asserted that the scandal was a very serious problem but, at the same time, estimated that it was "probably caused by 'no more than 1 per cent' (or 5,000) of the over 500,000 Roman Catholic priests worldwide.[citation needed]

The John Jay report has been updated through 2010.[67]

Global extent[edit]

Although allegations of clergy sexual abuse have surfaced in several countries around the world, there have been no comprehensive studies which compare the relative incidence of sexual abuse in different areas. However, there is a general perception that the issue has been most prominent in the United States, and then in Australia, Canada and Ireland.[68]

In 2007, there were 408,024 priests in the world.[69]

Number of allegations[edit]

The number of alleged abuses increased in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s, declined in the 1980s and by the 1990s had returned to the levels of the 1950s.[50]

Of the 11,000 allegations reported by bishops in the John Jay study, 3300 were not investigated because the allegations were made after the accused priest had died. 6700 allegations were substantiated, leaving 1000 which could not be substantiated.

According to the John Jay report, one-third of the accusations were made in the years 2002-3. Another third of the allegations were reported between 1993 and 2001.[50]

Profile of the alleged abuses[edit]

The John Jay study found that, "Like in the general population, child sex abuse in the Catholic Church appears to be committed by men close to the children they allegedly abuse." According to the study, "many (abusers) appear to use grooming tactics to entice children into complying with the abuse, and the abuse occurs in the home of the alleged abuser or victim." The study characterized these enticements as actions such as buying the minor gifts, letting the victim drive a car and taking youths to sporting events. The most frequent context for abuse was a social event and many priests socialized with the families of victims. Abuses occurred in a variety of places with the most common being the residence of the priest.[66]

The John Jay report catalogued more than twenty types of sexual abuse ranging from verbal harassment to penile penetration. It said that most of the abusers engaged in multiple types of abuses. According to the report, only 9 percent of the accused performed acts limited to improper touching over the victim's clothes. Slightly more than 27 percent of the allegations involved a cleric performing oral sex and 25 percent involved penile penetration or attempted penile penetration, reported the study.

The study said sexual abuse "includes contacts or interactions between a child and an adult when the child is being used as an object of sexual gratification for the adult." The report categorized allegations of sexual abuse even if the allegation did not involve force or genital or physical contact.[66]

Profile of the victims[edit]

The John Jay report found that 81% of the victims were male. 22% of victims were younger than age 10, 51% were between the ages of 11 and 14, and 27% were between the ages 15 and 17 years.[50][66]

Profile of the abusers[edit]

Half the priests were 35 years of age or younger at the time of the first instance of alleged abuse. Fewer than 7 percent of the priests were reported to have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children. Although 19 percent of the accused priests had alcohol or substance abuse problems, only 9 percent used drugs or alcohol during the alleged instances of abuse. Almost 70 percent of the abusive priests were ordained before 1970, after attending pre-Vatican II seminaries or seminaries that had had little time to adapt to the reforms of Vatican II.[50]

Of the priests who were accused of sexual abuse, 59% were accused of a single allegation. 41% of the priests were the subject of more than one allegation. Just under 3% of the priests were the subject of ten or more allegations. The 149 priests who had more than 10 allegations against them accounted for 2,960 of the total number of allegations.[50]

2003 Vatican Conference on Sexual Abuse[edit]

In April 2003, the Pontifical Academy for Life organized a three-day conference, entitled "Abuse of Children and Young People by Catholic Priests and Religious", where eight non-Catholic psychiatric experts were invited to speak to near all Vatican dicasteries' representatives. The panel of experts identified the following factors contributing to the sexual abuse problem:[70]

  • Failure by the hierarchy to grasp the seriousness of the problem.
  • Overemphasis on the need to avoid a scandal.
  • Use of unqualified treatment centers.
  • Misguided willingness to forgive.
  • Insufficient accountability.

Diocesan awareness of the problem[edit]

In response to criticism that the Catholic hierarchy should have acted more quickly and decisively to remove priests accused of sexual misconduct, contemporary bishops have responded that the hierarchy was unaware until recent years of the danger in shuffling priests from one parish to another and in concealing the priests' problems from those they served. For example, Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said: "We have said repeatedly that ... our understanding of this problem and the way it's dealt with today evolved, and that in those years ago, decades ago, people didn't realize how serious this was, and so, rather than pulling people out of ministry directly and fully, they were moved."[71]

Diocesan response to allegations of sexual abuse[edit]

Some bishops have been heavily criticized for moving offending priests from parish to parish, where they still had personal contact with children, rather than seeking to have them permanently removed from the priesthood by defrocking. The Church was widely criticized when it was discovered that some bishops knew about some of the alleged crimes committed, but reassigned the accused instead of seeking to have them permanently removed from the priesthood.[12][35]

In defense of this practice, some have pointed out that public school administrators engaged in a similar manner when dealing with accused teachers,[36] as did the Boy Scouts of America.[37]

Instead of reporting the incidents to police, many dioceses directed the offending priests to seek psychological treatment and assessment. According to the John Jay report, nearly 40 percent of priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse participated in treatment programs. The more allegations a priest had, the more likely he was to participate in treatment.[50] From a legal perspective, the most serious criticism aside from the incidents of child sexual abuse themselves was by the bishops, who failed to report accusations to the police. In response to the failure to report abuse to the police, lawmakers have changed the law to make reporting of abuse to police compulsory. In 2002, Massachusetts passed a law requiring religious officials to report the abuse of children.[72]

In response to these allegations, defenders of the Church's actions have suggested that in re-assigning priests after treatment, bishops were acting on the best medical advice then available, a policy also followed by the US public school system when dealing with accused teachers. Some bishops and psychiatrists have asserted that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling.[35][38] Many of the abusive priests had received counseling before being reassigned.[39][40] Critics have questioned whether bishops are necessarily able to form accurate judgments on a priest's recovery.[citation needed] The priests were allowed to resume their previous duties with children only when the bishop was advised by the treating psychologists or psychiatrists that it was safe for them to resume their duties.[citation needed]

According to the John Jay study, 3 percent of all priests against whom allegations were made were convicted and about 2 percent received prison sentences."[66]

Media coverage and public opinion[edit]

Differing perspectives and misconceptions contributed to negative public opinion in the U.S. towards the what was perceived as the failure of the Catholic hierarchy to respond adequately to allegations of sexual abuse and the seemingly sluggish response of the Vatican to the unfolding scandal. Some sources argue that the negative public opinion was fueled in part by statements made to the media by various parties with differing agendas including lawyers for those suing the Church for damages resulting the alleged sexual abuse. As the public furor over the scandal grew, some members of the Catholic Church began to see an anti-Catholic agenda behind some of these pronouncements.

Criticism of media coverage by Catholics and others centered on an excessive focus being placed on Catholic incidences of abuse. Such voices argue that equal or greater levels of child sexual abuse in other religious groups or in secular contexts such as the US public school system have been either ignored or given minimal coverage by mainstream media.[73] Commentator Tom Hoopes wrote:

during the first half of 2002, the 61 largest newspapers in California ran nearly 2,000 stories about sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, mostly concerning past allegations. During the same period, those newspapers ran four stories about the federal government’s discovery of the much larger — and ongoing — abuse scandal in public schools.[74]

Anglican writer Philip Jenkins supported many of these arguments stating that media coverage of the abuse story had become "..a gross efflorescence of anti-catholic rhetoric."[75]

Response of the Vatican[edit]

Sections: #Pope Benedict's apology, #Response of Pope Benedict

In 2003, Pope John Paul II stated that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young".[76]

In addition, Pope Benedict XVI has apologized for the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and pledged that pedophiles would not be allowed to become priests in the Catholic Church.

Impact on the church[edit]

Compensation payouts[edit]

According to Donald Cozzens, "by the end of the mid 1990s, it was estimated that ...more than half a billion dollars had been paid in jury awards, settlements and legal fees." This figure grew to about one billion dollars by 2002.[77] Roman Catholics spent $615 million on sex abuse cases in 2007.[78]

In 2002, one attorney reported total earnings of $60 million from suing the church.[79]

For some of the payments loans of up to $500 million were extended to four American dioceses in 2005–07 by Allied Irish Banks (AIB), based in the Republic of Ireland. By chance Peter Sutherland had been chairman of AIB in 1989–93, and was Consulter of the Extraordinary Section of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See from December 2006. AIB had to be nationalised during the 2008–2011 Irish financial crisis. According to the Irish Daily Mail in 2011, the loans are being serviced and repaid ".. from an unknown source".[80]

Date Diocese Bishop Payment Number of recipients Comments
1997 Diocese of Dallas $31 million[81]
June 2003 Archdiocese of Louisville $25.7 million[82] 240
September 2003 Archdiocese of Boston $85 million[83] 552
September 2004 Diocese of Tucson $22.2 million Filed for bankruptcy
December 2004 Diocese of Spokane, Washington $48 million[84] Payment agreement was part of bankruptcy proceeding
January 2005 Diocese of Orange Tod Brown $100 million 87
October 2006 Diocese of Davenport Filed for bankruptcy
December 2006 Diocese of Phoenix $100,000[85] 1
December 2006 Archdiocese of Los Angeles Roger Mahony $60 million[86] 45
January 2007 Diocese of Charleston $12 million
July 2007 Archdiocese of Los Angeles $660 million
January 2007 Diocese of Charleston $12 million[87]
September 2007 Diocese of San Diego Robert Brom $198.1 million[88] 144
March 2008 Diocese of Fairbanks Donald Kettler 130 Filed for bankruptcy
May 2008 Diocese of Sacramento $100,000[89] 1 The Jesuit Order, not the diocese, paid a $16 million settlement for molestation of nine children by two of their priests
July 2008 Archdiocese of Denver Charles Chaput $5.5 million[90] 18 Resolved through mediation
October 2009 Diocese of Wilmington W. Francis Malooly 131 Filed for bankruptcy

Bankruptcies[edit]

  • Citing monetary concerns arising from impending trials on sex abuse claims, the Archdiocese of Portland (Oregon) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 6, 2004, hours before two abuse trials were set to begin, becoming the first Roman Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy. If granted, bankruptcy would mean pending and future lawsuits would be settled in federal bankruptcy court. The archdiocese had settled more than one hundred previous claims for a sum of over $53 million. The filing seeks to protect parish assets, school money and trust funds from abuse victims; the archdiocese's contention is that parish assets are not the archdiocese's assets. Plaintiffs in the cases against the archdiocese have argued that the Catholic Church is a single entity, and that the Vatican should be liable for any damages awarded in judgment of pending sexual abuse cases.
  • In December 2004, the Diocese of Spokane, Washington agreed to pay at least $48 million as compensation to those abused by priests as part of its bankruptcy filing. This payout has to be agreed upon by victims and another judge.[84]
  • The Diocese of Tucson filed for bankruptcy in September 2004. The diocese reached an agreement with its victims, which the bankruptcy judge approved June 11, 2005, specifying terms that included allowing the diocese reorganization to continue in return for a $22.2 million settlement.[91]
  • On February 27, 2007, the Diocese of San Diego filed for Chapter 11 protection, hours before the first of about 150 lawsuits was due to be heard. San Diego became the largest diocese to postpone its legal problems in this way.[94] The bankruptcy was missed November 16, 2007, on a motion by the Diocese after a settlement of $198 million was reached with 144 claimants.
  • On March 7, 2008, the Diocese of Fairbanks filed for bankruptcy after the failure of negotiations to settle 130 civil suits filed by Alaska natives who claimed to be abused by priests, and other church employees, beginning in the 1950s.[95]
  • On October 18, 2008, the Diocese of Wilmington filed for bankruptcy as the first of some eight lawsuits (of more than 100 potential) was scheduled to go to trial the next day.[96][97][98]
  • On January 4, 2011, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced that it would be filing for bankruptcy. The church was facing more than 23 lawsuits, and attempts to reach a mediated settlement with victims failed in December 2010. This came two days before the Bishop was scheduled to be deposed about these cases, and after the church had refused to release the names or personnel records of the accused priests. The opposing attorney said that the bankruptcy filing was an attempt to delay turning over church records on the cases. The Milwaukee archdiocese has already paid out over $29 million to settle 200 cases over the last 20 years. They said that these additional cases would cause hefty legal fees that the dioceses could not afford. The diocese has assets of about $98.4 million, but $90 million of that is restricted for specific uses.[99] Prior to the bankruptcy Cardinal Timothy Dolan then an Archbishop, with Vatican approval transferred $57 million from diocesan funds to prevent victims awarded compensation accessing the money. [34][100]

Resignations[edit]

Eight US Roman Catholic prelates have resigned since 1990 because of their alleged involvement in sex scandals; seven cases involved the abuse of minors. Two other bishops, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Bishop Manuel Moreno of Tucson, Arizona, resigned over their mishandling of abusive clergy.

In 2002, the Diocese of Manchester signed an agreement with the state's attorney general, acknowledging that past diocesan failures to protect minors from abusive priests were possible grounds for the diocese as an institution to be convicted under the state's child endangerment statute. On February 10, 2003, a special grand jury in Long Island published a report saying, "The history of the Diocese of Rockville Centre demonstrates that as an institution they are incapable of properly handling issues relating to the sexual abuse of children by priests."

Bernard Francis Law, Cardinal and Archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts, United States resigned after Church documents were revealed which suggested he had covered up sexual abuse committed by priests in his archdiocese.[101] For example, John Geoghan was shifted from one parish to another although Cardinal Law had often been informed of his abuse. In December 1984 auxiliary Bishop John M. D’Arcy wrote to Cardinal Law complaining about the reassignment of Geoghan to another Boston-area parish because of his “history of homosexual involvement with young boys."[102]

Church actions in dealing with sex abuse scandal[edit]

In recent years, the Catholic Church has implemented policies promoting disclosure of cases of abuse, and sexual offenders among the clergy have increasingly been directed toward external agencies.

Continued attention to issue[edit]

While the Church in the United States claims to have addressed the issue, others maintain the only change is the Church has hardened its defenses while allowing abuse to continue. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops convened a meeting in Dallas on June 12, 2002 to address the sex abuse scandal. They announced a national policy of zero tolerance for those accused of molesting.[103]

In 2005, Dr. Kathleen McChesney of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that the crisis is not yet over because thousands of victims across the country are still reporting the abuse. She said: "In 2004, at least 1,092 allegations of sexual abuse were made against at least 756 Catholic priests and deacons in the United States. Most of the alleged incidents occurred between 1965 and 1974. What is over is the denial that this problem exists, and what is over is the reluctance of the Church to deal openly with the public about the nature and extent of the problem."[104]

In 2010, the Associated Press reported that the number of allegations, victims, offending clergy dropped in 2009 to their lowest point since data started being collected in 2004. Dioceses and their insurers paid $104 million in settlement fees, attorney fees and other costs, down from $376 million in 2008.[105]

In 2013, a group calling itself Catholic Whistleblowers began to launch a public campaign to encourage improvement in implementing the zero-tolerance policies on child sexual abuse by clergy members. The group said that despite annual audits of the policies by the bishops commission since 2004 – which show improvements – "vigilance is necessary because some bishops are violating the ... policies, and abusive clergy (who now number 6,275, according to the bishops’ count of those accusations that they deem credible) still have access to children", according to a media report. One focus of the group's activity has regarded a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark. "Several of the whistle-blowers ... [a]long with some New Jersey politicians ... have called for the resignation of the archbishop of Newark, John J. Myers" in the matter. The group has also "sent a letter to Pope Francis asking him to take several significant steps to heal victims and restore the church’s credibility". The Whistleblowers has a steering committee of 12 priests, nuns and lay people. "Rev. Thomas P. Doyle — perhaps the church’s most famed whistle-blower — recently joined the group"; and a news conference was scheduled for late May 2013; the report also said.[106]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Groeschel, F. Benedict, From Scandal to Hope (OSV, 2002)
  • Jenkins, Philip, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2001). ISBN 0-19-514597-6.
  • Lobdell, William, "Missionary's Dark Legacy; Two remote Alaska villages are still reeling from a Catholic volunteer's sojourn three decades ago, when he allegedly molested nearly every Eskimo boy in the parishes. The accusers, now men, are scarred emotionally and struggle to cope. They are seeking justice," Los Angeles Times, Nov 19, 2005, p. A.1
  • Ranan, David, Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church (Theo Press Ltd., 2007) ISBN 978-0-9554133-0-8.

External links[edit]

General

United States